By Steve Jordan.
Firstly, I must declare a common interest here. I am part of the organising team for the OMNI conference so, the fact that I think it worked is not an absolutely unbiased opinion. That said, my role is limited to helping out with the business sessions and taking photos, so none of the credit should be aimed at me. It’s an OMNI product delivered, as has become expected, in some style.
Last year OMNI went to Livingstone in Zambia. There’s the old Faulty Towers line when the guest was complaining about the view: Basil asked what she expected. “Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain...”. Well in Zambia we had the Zambezi at the bottom of the garden and wild animals roaming the reception. It was tough to imagine how the classically majestic Florence could possibly compete … but it did.
150 captains of the moving and relocation industry descended on the 5-star Westin Excelsior for four days, 15-18 April. It’s a small group but, at OMNI, it’s not the numbers that matter, it’s the people. There is no other meeting in the industry that allows you to rub along with quite so many top bookers and innovators than OMNI. This year attendance was over 40% up on previous years.
The conference, in line with all others, is a mixture of business and social events. In that respect it’s no different from any other. In every other respect, it is. It’s very hard to put your finger on why the OMNI conference is so special. Maybe it’s because all the delegates are owners and senior managers which changes the dynamic from a sales environment to a strategic one; maybe it was the location in the heart of the city with the Arno river bubbling along next door and the Ponte Vechio beckoning; perhaps it’s that everyone are genuine friends and newcomers are welcomed instantly and unquestioningly. It’s probably all of these things but it’s also that Ian Waters, OMNI’s General Manager, and his team take great care to make sure everything is right. It’s the detail that makes the difference.
The business sessions were kicked off by Eric Nicholson, a professional actor and professor of theatre history who brought Florence to life with a mixture of theatre and a seemingly limitless local knowledge. Michael McDaniel from law firm Countryman and McDaniel, representing the conference sponsor, Pac Global Insurance, spoke about insurance in such an informative and entertaining way that it was impossible not to me enthralled. Every business session was a full house – people take business seriously at OMNI – and many joined in with an enthusiasm perhaps uncharacteristic of their seniority.
When it came to the workshop session, that can often fall a little flat at some conferences, the group made real decisions. Many organisations claim to be market leaders but at business sessions such as those in Florence the members of OMNI clearly proved that they were not going through the motions: they were not prepared to come out of those meetings without having achieved something. What they did achieve was to give OMNI members a marketing advantage, in an area crucial to corporate relocation, for the foreseeable future. OMNI will reveal more when the relevant structure is fully in place.
Florence is, of course, an aspirational venue for many and OMNI made certain that everyone had sufficient opportunity to explore the city and its culture should they wish to do so. The hotel location made it easy for delegates, with an hour or two to spare between meetings, to wander about and really get a feel for the place. In addition, OMNI organised guided tours of the Uffizi Gallery, Academia Museum, Galileo Museum; local beauty spots including Lucca, Pisa and San Gimignano; and local wineries.
The closing gala dinner was at the Palazzo Capponi at which tenors from the Opera of Florence entertained and there was dancing until late. But, perhaps the most memorable evening was the visit to the Il Molino de Grace winery, the Italian home of Frank and Judy Grace who are owners of TEAM, a long-term OMNI member. Frank and Judy welcomed around 150 friends and colleagues into their home for dinner and to sample the produce of the vineyard. It was a truly magical evening.
The OMNI golf tournament was held at the beautiful Ugolino Golf Club that has been described as ‘one of the courses you should play before you die’. Bob Bowen from Crown Worldwide Moving & Storage in San Francisco won the coveted Paul Mason Trophy; with Simone Zeevenhooven from TEAM taking home the silver for the ladies. Even if the greens weren’t running for you, it was worth the fee just to stroll for a day in such a stunning place.
Having come to the end of his two-year term as OMNI President, Willy Toedtli from Trafimar Relocation Services in Mexico handed over the presidency to Keith Meader from Asian Tigers Mobility – Thailand. In doing so he said that OMNI represents a joining of the most inventive, creative and entrepreneurial minds in the industry. “To be leaders in any industry, you have to lead. Sometimes that leadership role can be difficult and sometimes things can go wrong. But there is a saying that ‘he who never did anything wrong - never did anything’. I am proud of what OMNI has achieved and will continue to achieve in the future.”
It’s very easy to compare the OMNI conference with others, which is probably unfair. There is a lot you can do with a group of 150 that you can’t do with 600 at FIDI or 2000+ at IAM. Take away the sales need to go back to the office with a full book of promises and everything automatically becomes more relaxed. Fill the room with people who are used to making decisions on their own and things get done. Take care of the details, making sure that the customers (the members) always come first – and everyone’s happy. It’s a winning formula that OMNI seems to have a knack of repeating over and over again.